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The Microsoft Cloud Partner Program Is a Welcome Overhaul

I have been part of the various iterations of Microsoft's partner program since the 1990s. Microsoft has done a great of job of staying relevant with its partner program through the years.

Last week, the company decided it was time to make a major overhaul, announcing that the existing Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) will become the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program effective Oct. 3, 2022.

Our ecosystem has changed a lot since the MPN saw the light of day over a decade ago. On-premises computing is gradually going away, and partner characteristics have changed a lot. Today, we host our solutions in the cloud, and nobody really spends much time on physical infrastructure; all of that is handled by the dominant cloud vendors, who deliver compute from industry-scale datacenters that span the globe. Customers buy a combination of SaaS and bespoke applications hosted by themselves, or a partner, in the cloud. And, thanks to the low-code/no-code revolution, applications (or "apps," as we now call them) can be built faster and better than ever before.

A dilemma of recent years has been that customers haven't been able to differentiate between partners based on their MPN competencies or rank them based on whether they have Silver, Gold or even a higher level of specialized certification. One reason for this difficulty is that many competencies in the MPN were too broad and perhaps not really customer-facing.

The announcement of the Cloud Partner Program last week by Rodney Clark, Microsoft corporate vice president and chief of channel sales, was a welcome one. It will have six solution areas that I think makes sense:

  • Data & AI (Azure)
  • Infrastructure (Azure)
  • Digital & App Innovation (Azure)
  • Business Applications
  • Modern Work
  • Security

The MPN's Gold and Silver designations are going away. Instead, partners will be given the title "Solutions Partner" at the base level, and can opt to qualify for further specializations and advanced programs. This makes it easier for partners and, perhaps even more important, for customers, as they will be more likely to find the solutions that are relevant to them than they could under the old competency system.

Partners earn their designations by proving that they have great customer growth, the right skills, revenue and more. The new system to quantify these factors is called the Partner Capability Score, or PCS. It takes a PCS of 70 (out of an available 100) to qualify for a single solutions area. The points system reminds me of an older version of the Microsoft partner program (internal code name "Octane") from a decade ago, when partners also collected points, but this time it is much better-structured (although I was also a fan of the old scoring system).

Microsoft has put lots of effort into thinking about how to not hurt partners in the transition and give them ample time to make the switch to the new program. For instance, it said that the highly appreciated Internal Use Rights (IUR) benefit will remain, but under the new name of "Product Benefits."

I've always believed that the bond between partners and Microsoft is indeed a true partnership. Partners that invest in Microsoft long-term and strategically will most likely find that Microsoft will do the same with them.

In the new Microsoft Cloud Partner Program, it will be easier for Microsoft to see which partners are driving tangible business growth around the various Microsoft offerings, and they can support these partners even better because their goals are well-aligned. That's a great foundation for a fruitful partnership.

Posted by Per Werngren on March 22, 2022


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